'The government behaves as if it is ashamed'
There were harsh words for the government by Archives Action Group chairman William Waung at a press conference yesterday. "We have the most inefficient government because it doesn't place any value on good records management. It doesn't have the people. It doesn't have the resources. It doesn't have the will." He went on to say the government "gives the impression it is ashamed of what it is doing, and therefore wants the whole world and Hong Kong people to forget about what it is doing".
This was the group's first response to the recent publication of the Ombudsman's report into the appalling state of the government's archives, which drew attention to large-scale destruction of documents while not giving the Government Records Services adequate resources to vet and archive documents. The report essentially confirms the observations the group made some years ago and repeats the findings of the Director of Audit's reports released just over two years ago.
The group, which is chaired by a former High Court judge and includes another judge and archive experts, sent the government a draft archive law four years ago.
Despite the withering criticism from two investigations, the government blithely repeats the mantra that it is taking "administrative measures" to address criticism of its arrangements for the archives. It referred the matter to the Law Reform Commission in June last year, which is equivalent to burying it for 10 to 15 years, by which time all the key decision-makers in the civil service and the administration will have departed the scene.
Only last year, a paper was presented to the Legislative Council's panel on administration of justice and legal services, which highlighted the long period of time it took the government to implement recommendations by the commission. The average is about five years, but in one case it was extended to 14 years.
Waung said yesterday that there was no need for the matter to be referred to the commission, but rather the draft bill drawn up by his group should be tabled in Legco and debated. He went on to say Hong Kong was going through a period of tremendous turmoil over political reform, which was undoubtedly generating considerable discussion within the government, but under the current arrangement, there was little prospect of these records being preserved.
But he said government officials might behave differently and make different decisions if they knew what they said and did was being preserved in properly kept archives. "This is not just a question of records about a cultural heritage. It's also about our political future, about the well-being of our children, about the shape of the society we want to have. That's why it is so important to create proper records," he said.
Waung might also have added that this was precisely why the government did not want to keep proper records. It doesn't want to be accountable for its actions and having an archive law would force it into doing that.
We see with interest that the British government is to cap fees on workplace pension schemes at 0.75 per cent from April next year. It follows from research by the Office of Fair Trading, which found older pension schemes were charging savers as much as 2.3 per cent of their pension pot each year.
In Hong Kong, the charges levied by Mandatory Provident Fund managers have been a bone of contention for some time. A 2012 survey found that fees averaged 1.74 per cent, which was the highest among several markets including Singapore. Any suggestion that the fees be lowered provokes an outburst of handwringing from the industry as to why it cannot be done.
Charges have a significant impact on the eventual pot that investors receive. According to a Consumer Council report, an account accruing HK$2,000 per month for 30 years, assuming a 5 per cent gross average return, would lose HK$220,000 over a 30-year period if fees were increased from 1 per cent to 2 per cent. Fees in the city vary from 0.23 per cent to 4.2 per cent.
Pension research firm Gadbury Group said that on average, actively managed MPF funds performed in line with the lower-cost index-tracking funds.
Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to email@example.com